Profile: A Leader of New Jersey’s Environmental Movement

Michael Catania has spent much of his professional life protecting the Garden State’s land and water

Michael Catania
Who he is: Michael Catania

Age: 62

What he does: Executive director of Duke Farms Foundation, which operates a 2,742-acre property in Hillsborough Township, which is meant to serve as a model of environmental stewardship and sustainability. Founded by J.B. Duke, who founded the American Tobacco Co. and the Duke Power Co.

Where he lives: He owns a preserved farm in Mendham Township, but is moving onto the expansive Duke Farms property in Hillsborough with his wife.

Why he counts: Catania is a senior and well-respected leader of the conservation movement in New Jersey. As former executive director of the The Nature Conservancy, he was instrumental in preserving some 45,000 acres and creating a system of 36 nature preserves. He also served as deputy commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection at a time of rapid expansion of that agency.

Prior to that, as a legislative staffer, he drafted many important environmental laws, including the Pinelands Protection Act and the Spill Compensation and Control Act, which requires polluters to pay for damage they do to the state’s natural resources. Later this month, he will be inducted in the Pine Barrens Hall of Fame (along with David Moore, a longtime leader of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation).

How he ended up at Duke Farms: “The reason I went to Duke Farms, it was an opportunity to work with the public to demonstrate what each one can do on a small scale or a grand scale to be part of the solutions, not part of the problem,’’ he said.

The state of land preservation in New Jersey: “It’s probably just as important now as ever. If we don’t stitch enough land to protect water supplies, preserve land, and create parks, it may be too late. This is the time to act. New Jersey has done a pretty good job of taking care of its natural resources infrastructure.’’

What he thinks about the November open-space ballot issue: (It would provide at least $70 million a year to protect open space, and preserve farmland and historic structures — although it does divert money now dedicated to parks, fixing underground storage tanks, and other environmental uses). “I don’t think it’s anyone’s first choice to fund open space, but it is the only game in town.’’

Why do environmental issues lack the support they have garnered in the past? “Economic issues are a bigger concern. The Republican party has been captured by the right wing. It used to be moderate Republicans were environmental champions. We don’t have many moderate Republicans any more, except people like (Sen.) Kip Bateman (R-Somerset).

Biggest challenge New Jersey faces: “The biggest issue is climate change; it really dwarfs everything else. If a great meteor is heading to the Earth, people would put aside their differences to confront the problem. The choices we make now are going to have a great impact (on climate change) in the future. It is difficult to understand why our elected officials are not responding to that.’’

How he relaxes: Hiking, canoeing and kayaking.

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